I would imagine that nobody doubts that Ely Cathedral is glorious.
Its extraordinarily beautiful octagonal lantern tower, the Lady
Chapel, the painted ceiling, the stained glass – these and many
other features, not least its situation in the Fens, make it
one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful of
English Cathedrals. Despite its title, however, the glory that
this disc shows relates solely to the musical life of the Cathedral
– by no means the least of its glories – and consists of recordings
made nearly thirty years ago. A pity not to have something to
show the choir as it is now, but no complaints as to the quality
of what is on offer here.
The bulk of the disc comprises choral items with organ accompaniment.
A discourtesy on the part of Heritage not to name the organist(s)
in these items, especially as he/she/they are uniformly excellent.
So are the choir whose vigorous but sensitive singing brings
out the best of each of the works chosen. The singing of the
tenors and basses is especially noteworthy, with real quality
of tone and awareness of the musical line. They are neither
rough nor feeble – the usual twin dangers for Cathedral choirs.
The two Stanford settings of the morning canticles are well
contrasted, full of invention and arguably amongst his very
best works. The more austere but very lovely Bairstow Lamentation
is deeply felt and the performance does it full justice. Tertius
Noble’s evening canticles in A minor are less well known that
the set in B minor, but are at least as interesting. The recording
of all these items brings one up close to the choir, as if one
were sitting close by at Evensong.
The solo organ works are recorded more distantly, but once allowance
is made for that the recording is more than adequate. The Elgar
and Bridge, both played by Jeremy Filsell – at that time the
Assistant Organist, are given full-blooded performances, as
is the Dupré although the instrument sounds more English than
French. The odd one out is Glazunov’s Fantasie, much
longer than any of the other solos but one which, for me at
least, easily outstays its welcome. As the choir made several
very valuable recordings at that time it would have been better
to have included more choral items, perhaps from their very
successful disc of anthems by Sullivan. I do not know the basis
on which the items were chosen for this disc. Possibly because
all the composers represented were contemporaries, albeit of
different generations, and this certainly makes for some interesting
There are very brief notes on the music but no texts. This should
be no problem for the canticles but they would have been welcome
for the Bairstow, the words for which are taken from the Lamentation
of Jeremiah. Nonetheless there is so much to enjoy here, and
the choir in particular is so good that the disc would be worth
having for the choral items alone.